Duck Duck Book

33 – philosophy made simple
05.17.2006, 1:15 pm
Filed under: fiction

Philosophy made simple : a novel / Robert Hellenga.
New York : Little, Brown, 2006.
[MCL call number: FICTION HELLENGA; 12 copies, one hold]

Rudy Harrington is a widower with three independent, adult daughters. At the outset of the novel, he feels unsettled, and the small changes introduced by the natural course of his life are beginning to weigh on him some. He isn’t angry or depressed, he doesn’t have great fantasies that have been too long unsatisfied, but he is feeling low and slow. Somewhat impulsively, Rudy travels to Texas to investigate a business opportunity that has fallen in his lap — and soon enough he has sold his house and moved to rural Texas to become an avocado farmer.

In his new life, Rudy meets an elephant named Norma Jean (who paints pictures) and the Russian émigré who cares for her, begins in earnest to use and build the Spanish skills he acquired as a young man, constructs himself a suite of furniture, redecorates his house, and sincerely contemplates his relationships with his daughters.

Those of you who know me understood my affection for this book, I am sure, as soon as you read that one of the characters is an elephant. But there’s more to it than that — there is a kind of palpable tension between the regular-ness of Rudy’s story and the unusual beauty of the novel as a piece of writing. Philosophy Made Simple is well worth your time.

Rudy’s daughter Margot is featured in Hellenga’s first book, The Sixteen Pleasures (New York : Soho, c1994), the story of her journey to Florence to help dry out that city’s art treasures just after the 1966 flood — books, specifically; Margot is a book conservator. The Sixteen Pleasures is excellent, as are Hellenga’s other novels: The Fall of a Sparrow (New York : Scribner, c1998) and Blues Lessons (New York : Scribner, c2002).


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